When my daughters were at nursery school the teachers often asked parents to send the children in in their old clothes, because they wanted the children to be able to play without worrying about getting dirty. For many though the message fell on deaf ears and the children would turn up in what looked like their Sunday best. Sometimes when I was helping out I felt quite sad when children were obviously afraid to get dirty “because Mummy will tell me off”.
One day my daughter Carys got absolutely filthy. A new teacher at the school, who didn’t know me very well, said to Carys “Oh dear whatever will your mummy say?!” “It’ll wash” Carys replied without hesitation (so I was told later). And it did wash – a quick spin in the washing machine and her outfit was good as new again. But more importantly Carys had had fun that day in nursery.
In my article ‘Let them eat dirt’ I wrote about how our current obsession with cleanliness is making us sicker. The old adage is that the more germs a child is exposed to during early childhood, the better their immune system later in life.
Researchers also say messy children make better learners. A recent study shows toddlers who get messy in their high chairs learn certain types of words better.
Their message is clear: Attention, parents: The messier your child gets while playing with food in the high chair, the more he or she is learning.
If you put toddlers in a setting they know well, such as shoving stuff in their mouths, word learning increases, because children at that age are used to seeing nonsolid things in this context, when they're eating, and, if you expose them to these things when they're in a highchair, they do better. They're familiar with the setting and that helps them remember and use what they already know about non-solids.
The researchers found that children who play with and even throw oozy and gooey objects in their high chairs learn the names of those objects more quickly than children who don't.
The toddlers who interacted the most with the foods—parents, interpret as you want—were more likely to correctly identify them by their texture and name them, the study determined. For example, imagine you were a 16-month-old gazing at a cup of milk and a cup of glue. How would you tell the difference by simply looking?
It's not about words you know, but words you're going to learn.
In the research paper published in the journal Developmental Science researchers at the University of Iowa studied how 16-month-old children learn words for nonsolid objects, from oatmeal to glue.